Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 31.03.2016

Review for Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair on PlayStation 4

The expression 'so bad, it's good' probably isn't the kind of praise any game developer is hoping for upon releasing their product into the public domain, yet it seems to be one that's become synonymous with the Earth Defense Force franchise over the years. This Japanese third-person shooter rapidly attained cult status thanks in no small part to its schlocky B-movie vibe, corny dialogue, low budget aesthetic, and repetitive but ultimately fun gameplay. While Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (from this point on referred to as EDF4.1 for brevity's sake) is developer Sandlot's first entry of the series to hit the current generation of consoles, in actuality, it's an upgraded version of Earth Defense Force 2025, a last-gen title that originally swarmed its way onto the Xbox 360 and PS3 back in 2013. Cubed3 loads up on bug repellent and go kick some alien thorax.

Humanity has harboured a warmongering instinct ever since primitive Neanderthal man took to bludgeoning one another's heads with crudely constructed weapons, so it should be of little surprise that a series of intercepted deep space radio transmissions resulted in the concerned citizens of planet Earth ignoring all possibilities of a benevolent alien species and instead concentrating on the assembly of a huge army...just to be on the safe side. Thus, the Earth Defense Force was born, a global coalition comprised of troops low in IQ but schooled in the art of war, specialising in the type of gung-ho combat that typifies the 'shoot now, question later' credo. It's a gambit that definitely paid off, given that these otherworldly visitors were in fact hostile and have clearly used bad sci-fi films as the jumping-off point to study the weaknesses of the human race.

Each stage sees the EDF take on waves of clichéd enemies ranging from giant ants to oversized arachnids, towering Hector-bots, and airborne dragons. Even the mighty Godzilla makes an appearance, which, in true Japanese style, is best tackled by taking control of a giant lumbering Gundam-esque robot. There's no multi-layered narrative driving progress forward; just blast everything. If it moves...shoot it. If it just sits there spewing out other enemies...shoot it. If it flies high above, dropping enemies down from a great height...shoot it. That's as deep as the gameplay gets. Reducing a skyscraper to rubble just to get rid of the two giant spiders crawling around the top of it seems to be a regular tactic employed by the EDF knuckleheads, so maybe a possible name change to 'Scorched Earth Defense Force' is in order. Once an area is cleared (i.e. there are no more red dots left on the mini-map), then that level is complete and the battle moves on to a new, vaguely different setting with a different strain of enemy to blast into tiny chunks.

Screenshot for Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair on PlayStation 4

In a bid to provide a semblance of variety to EDF4.1's gameplay, there are four different classes that can be chosen from, each sporting distinct differences in handling and ability. The Ranger is the low level grunt, a combat expert who's relatively versatile, able to make use of two weapons, and a good starting point for newcomers to the EDF. Aerial attacks are best left to the Wing Diver, a female operative well equipped with alien weaponry and a jet-pack to skirt about the airspace in a menacing fashion. There's a support class in the form of the Air Raider that has the ability to call in vehicles/tanks, as well as bombing runs and missile strikes. Last but not least is the Fencer, a tank class that has the ability to dual wield heavy weaponry and carry a total of 4 different firearms, with the only trade off being that, bar the occasional boost, he moves at a snail's pace.

Truth be told, the Ranger and Wing Diver are the only two classes that are actually any fun to play, so it's unlikely the other two will get much love after an initial dalliance with their abilities. The lack of a sprint option for the ground-based classes seems a bit of a strange oversight to make considering the distance between some of the alien engagements in the somewhat sizeable levels. Killing the alien hordes leaves plentiful drops in the form of large crates that contain either Health, Armour, or Weapons, which allows for a gradual levelling up of installed equipment along with the occasional new shiny gun to play with that can be tweaked via the customisable loadout. The whole game revolves around grinding for better gear to meet the requirements to tackle the later levels.

Screenshot for Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair on PlayStation 4

From a technical standpoint, EDF4.1 is prone to having the occasional moment where it might struggle to keep up with the frenetic onscreen action, but for the most part it manages to maintain a relatively steady framerate during the frequent, intense skirmishes. That's not to say that it's not without its fair share of problems. Getting stuck in fallen masonry, witnessing NPC characters shooting at non-aggressive walls, and hearing the loud screams and cries of a panicked populace despite there not being a living soul to be seen for miles all add to its low-budget charm. Occasionally, our hero can be caught by a jet of webbing that's somehow managed to be fired through a number of buildings, meaning that the spider that's slowly dragging him towards a dense patch of enemies is invulnerable, as it's completely out of weapons reach, which is slightly irritating.

Some of these shortcomings can be forgiven, really, when taking into consideration the sheer amount of chaotic action happening at any one time. It definitely feels like this is the game that Sandlot always wanted to make, but were held back by restrictions with the previous hardware generation. While it can safely lay claim to being the best-looking entry in the series to date, it's a fairly hollow boast given that none of the previous instalments would have fared particularly well in a beauty contest. As expected, the dialogue is just plain awful, and on many occasions, the stilted, irony-free delivery will provide plenty of amusement. Never have the two words 'Giant Insects' been uttered so frequently in such a short space of time, and it brings to mind the Malkovich scene from Being John Malkovich. It takes a cold heart not to join in with the NPCs' chants of 'EDF! EDF! EDF!' after surviving a particularly hairy encounter.

Screenshot for Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair on PlayStation 4

Taking on the vast alien horde is certainly best tackled as a team, so it seems a bit of a shame that in an age where 'drop in, drop out' multiplayer has become the standard, Sandlot have opted to take a comparatively ham-fisted approach to matchmaking. Despite being totally identical, both the single-player and multiplayer campaigns are treated as entirely separate entities, which might not ring any alarm bells to start off with, but does prove to be somewhat problematic for the socially inclined gamer a bit further on down the line. For example, after playing through the first seventeen levels solo, some co-op help from a friend on level eighteen might make the encounter a bit more interesting.

Unfortunately, to make this happen, a multiplayer campaign has to be started up, and then the first seventeen levels need to be played through again, as all progress in the single-player game is completely blocked off. The only viable option is to hope that a random internet stranger has made an online room available playing the same level and settings, with enough available spaces for the incoming party. Of course, the most sensible approach is to just ignore the single-player campaign altogether and instead treat the multiplayer campaign as the default playthrough, making online co-operation an ongoing option for those that require it. There are actually split-screen options for both co-operative and versus multiplayer, which is good for the couch-bound competitors, though the performance is prone to taking the occasional hit as a result.

Screenshot for Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Despite being good, clean, mindless fun, Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair lacks the depth and polish to elevate it above its peers, and likely won't appeal to those unwilling to commit to the grind. Fans of past iterations in the series will no doubt lap it up voraciously and call out anybody who disagrees that it's the greatest thing since...well, the last EDF game. While it's fair to say that it does have a certain low-tech charm best enjoyed in small doses, extended sessions only serve to emphasise the shallow, repetitive gameplay, with prolonged exposure inducing what can only be described as brain atrophy. So bad it's good? Yeah, probably.

Developer

Sandlot

Publisher

PQube

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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